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To get the most reliable and up to date information about the coronavirus pandemic, you can refer to the WHO website.

Are you one of the lucky ones who’s never dealt with being unemployed or furloughed before? It’s just one of the many ways that coronavirus is turning the universe upside down. 

According to official statistics, over 38 million Americans have made a claim for unemployment support over the last two months. The Economic Policy Institute’s survey conducted in April reckoned that the true number of people put out of jobs due to coronavirus is much, much higher but the claims process for getting unemployment benefits puts a fair few people off. 

March’s emergency relief bill that was signed into law by Trump allocated $2.2 trillion to support people and it changed who would be eligible to receive government support. A second stimulus bill passed through both houses last week, and Dori Zinn looked at what the changes might mean for cnet

Unemployment insurance, what’s it all about? 

If you lose your job you should be able to make a claim for unemployment insurance. The requirements and benefits that you get will vary state by state. As an example, in Florida a qualifying resident should get 12 weeks of financial support through unemployment, up to $275 each week. Here’s a guide for every state.

Pre-stimulus and pre-corona, unemployment payments were intended to be a temporary stop-gap to cover your basic necessities like housing, utilities, and food, until you landed your next job. In the past, a self-employed person who lost business or contracts wouldn’t have qualified for standard unemployment insurance payments. 

The new stimulus package, what’s it going to cover?

As well as those who were in full-time work, you can also receive benefits if you were self-employed or part-time employed, those who were unemployed before coronavirus spread across the world, or you can’t work due to COVID-19. Some other people are also included in the scheme, like: 

  • If starting a new job was put off because of the pandemic
  • People who get Social Security or veteran benefits
  • The place you worked at was forced to close due to coronavirus, such as restaurants 
  • You can’t go to work because you’ve got to care for a child or family member who’d otherwise be cared for if it weren’t for school and facility closures

What payments will I get?

The new scheme is giving those eligible an additional $600 each week, that’s extra after whatever you get through your state’s unemployment payments. You’ll get paid for an extra 13 weeks, so taking Florida as an example again – it would usually cover unemployment for 12 weeks and the new scheme extends that to 25 weeks. A lot of other states will pay out for 26 weeks; in that case you’d get a total of 39 weeks of support. Even if you’ve had all the previous unemployment benefits you’d been able to claim, you can still get those extra 13 weeks. 

The level of payment is different by state, but a lot of people could see a doubling in their unemployment payout. In California, the standard payment is $450 each week and with the new payments you’d get over $1,000. The median weekly salary in the US was $936 per week in the last quarter of 2019.

How does it work for furloughed workers?

When you’ve been laid off, it means your job has ended completely, whereas a furlough is a leave of absence and you should have an end date. There are a lot of benefits to being furloughed rather than losing your job; some employers still give benefits and there’s a little bit of future security. For example, at Macy’s, most of their employees have gone on furlough but everyone who’s enrolled in healthcare is still covered “at least through May.”

In normal times, there’d be different rules across states for those who have been furloughed, but with the new package in the stimulus bill, everyone who’s been put on furlough because of coronavirus will still get their unemployment insurance payments. If you’re unemployed you’d need to prove you’d lost your job, but this isn’t true for furloughed employees.  

What’s not getting covered?

People who can work from home or are on paid leave from their employer don’t get any unemployment benefits. 

There are circumstances that mean if you quit rather than got fired, you’re not going to get the new unemployment benefit. To give an example, if you walked out of your job because you were concerned about catching COVID-19, but your workplace is still operational, you’re not likely to get a payout. If you’ve been forced to self-quarantine because you’ve likely come into contact with coronavirus, then you would still get a payout.

The way things are worded is a little ambiguous. The change in the law is meant to help workers who had to quit working because of the pandemic, but states will decide if you’re going to get paid or not. Most states are now very much over capacity to deal with claims and are struggling to deal with everything, but the only way you’ll know if you get anything is by making an application.

When do applications start?

You can make your application straight away. Pre-stimulus package there was a waiting period of at least one week before you’d get benefits. A few states have gotten rid of that wait time but there are some still with a delay in place. There’s no standard process in any of this; each state is going to deal with the pile applications differently. You’ll get your benefits as soon as possible but due to your own circumstances and your state government, you might get your money further down the road. 

There are quite literally millions applying for unemployment as it stands, and that number is only expected to grow in the coming weeks. Most of those affected should be able to benefit from this package of measures. When there’s no way you can work out of your kitchen, you’ve no paid leave to take, and you need to take care of your family, your only real option is to make an application for unemployment so you can survive. It’s a tough time for everyone, take everything that you’re eligible for so you can get through it. 

The scheme has been backdated to January 27 and will run for the year up to December 31 2020. 

The application process

You don’t ask the federal government or your unemployment payments, so you need to make your application through your state administration. You can find where you need to start here.

Be sure to comply with all of the requirements for your state, but be patient with them – every office is snowed under with more applications than they were ever built to handle. In the last full week of March, the Labor Department in New York took 8.2 million calls, a fair few more than the 50,000 they’d normally expect.

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